The city of Kingsport is unique in that it is home to 40,000 ghosts, most of whom died under tragic circumstances at the old mental hospital. Mayor Tracy cleared that building away to make room for a strip mall plaza and has relocated the wandering spirits to the Ghost Town neighborhood, effectively a ghetto. It’s been years since a significant supernatural occurrence in the city until tonight when a shadowy figure kills a pizza delivery boy. There are also reports of Dax Lycander, a werewolf who used to work for Yummy Yummy Chinese Delivery is back in town. Astrid, the pizza boy’s ex, is determined to avenge his murder and sets out to lure the killer out into the open. However, there is much more happening in the shadows of Kingsport that Astrid realizes.
The Favourite (2018) Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
In the early 18th century, Britain engages with France in war. All of that is unimportant because we are front and center in the court of the highly dysfunctional, depressed, and insecure Queen Anne. She is in the middle of a tug of war between the Whigs (who seek the war to continue until a victory is secured) and the Tories (who are tired of being taxed to fund a seemingly never-ending battle). Showing very little interest in all of these boring matters of state, Anne allows her longtime friend and confidante Lady Sarah Marlborough to handle them. Sarah is quite comfortable by the queen’s side and in her bed until her estranged cousin Abigail arrives. This wastrel finds a place as a scullery maid but wants to regain a position of import. Abigail cleverly listens and observes learning all she can about the court and in particular the specific whims of Anne. A power struggle begins between cousins, Sarah versus Abigail, a polite war that escalates quickly.
The Favourite is a film that left me thinking, without hesitation, “this is a masterpiece.” I am a rare fan of period pieces, particularly English historical ones. However, the lure of director Yorgos Lanthimos brought me to this one. His acidic humor has given us great films like Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The promise of more of his particular style combined with the talents of the three actresses helming this production (Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Coleman) was enough to entice me to the theater with little argument. What I found was a profoundly complex comedy about depression and the nature of codependency. Overlooking the trimmings of the age, the story at the heart of The Favourite is both relevant for our modern political times and our personal experiences.
Queen Anne, played stunningly by Olivia Coleman, is a walking shambles of a human being. The only thing that keeps her going is the fact that she is the queen of England. She’s plagued by nighttime throbs of gout that have forced her to use either crutches or a wheelchair. Anne harbors an infection of sorrow and pain over the death of all seventeen of her children. She cannot even enjoy the simplest of sweets without her stomach going into fits forcing her to vomit it up. The combination of physical ailments and emotional ones has made every personal relationship she has a potentially dangerous one. Any person that gets into her good graces is going to have their lifeforce drained from them. Sarah appears to be managing this as well as anyone can, giving into Anne’s desires while using a stern hand to rebuke her honestly. The film, much to its benefit, never truly makes Sarah’s intentions clear. She’s been friends with Anne since they were little girls and keeps it real with the monarch. However, there is an ever-present unanswered question about what Sarah truly wants. The film makes it clear that no one at Court is there out of goodwill.
Sarah and Abigail prove to be proper foils for each other. Sarah is well versed in the political process, having been raised as a noble since birth. She dresses in a masculine manner after her husband leaves for the war, wearing pants and jackets, allowing her to slide into the realm of men without any question. Sarah can maneuver with ease when it comes to balancing the moodiness of the queen and the demands of Parliament. Abigail acts as a wrench in the gears practicing a more improvisational act to gain the affections of Anne. Abigail appeals to the emotions of Anne; her first gesturing is embracing an element of Anne’s life that Sarah rejects in the opening scene. Unlike Sarah, it is blatantly apparent to the audience that Abigail has a reason to manipulate the queen. She was lost by her father in a card game and spent years with an old man whom she worked to escape. Abigail tells a member of the court that she isn’t on anyone’s side except her own and that fate sometimes causes her side to coincide with another’s.
The Favourite keeps in tone with being a pitch black film as we would expect from Yorgos Lanthimos. He isn’t here to offer a happy ending, but rather an honest one. There’s no way these three characters, after the way they venomously manipulate and emotional torture each other, are going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They orbit around a figure who is trapped in her neuroses and has been given near limitless power. There’s no real escape, and the hill they scale has no summit. Everything is the mire, and they are wallowing in it.
Never Goin’ Back (2018) Written & Directed by Augustine Frizzell
Angela and Jessie dropped out of high school and are killing time in their small southern Texas town until they turn eighteen and can escape. In the meantime, they’re stuck living with Jessie’s brother Dustin and his sleazy roommate Brandon. Their day jobs have them waiting tables at a local family eatery where they constantly dodge unemployment despite coming to work high or drunk. Through a series of interconnected vignettes, the young women experience highs and lows, both of the economic and pharmacological types. Throughout they remain devoted to each other and attempt to find some joy despite the loss. Always looming somewhere far up ahead is an escape to the beach and to see the ocean.
American Animals (2018) Written & Directed by Bart Layton
In 2004, a group of college students in Lexington, Kentucky attempted to steal a rare and valuable edition of John James Audobon’s Birds of America. Over the course of a year, they mapped out the entire library where the book was kept, traveled to New York to meet with a fence, went to the Netherlands to set up a potential buyer, and developed an intricate getaway plan. But, did they actually do all of this? And why do some of them remember it in drastically different ways than others? In this clever weaving of re-enactment and documentary confessional, we see the real-life thieves and their actor counterparts lay out the story of a bizarre and seemingly hopeless heist.
How To Talk to Girls at Parties (2018) Written Phillipa Goslett & John Cameron Mitchell Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Enn is a young adult at the height of punk in the United Kingdom. He published a fanzine with his two friends where he illustrates the anarchic adventures of his original character Vyris Boy. Enn and his friends frequently cruise the local venues for punk shows and stumble upon what they believe to be a group of American performers doing some experimental performance art/musical show. In actuality, these are alien collectives living in parent-teacher and child groups. Enn falls for Zan, a rebellious member of the visitors and she departs with him to learn about “the punk.” The alien beings see this as disruptive to the biological patterns they have engaged in for countless millennia and set out to undermine Zan or convince her to return home with them.
Thunder Road (2018) Written & Directed by Jim Cummings
“It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” – Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road.”
We meet officer Jim Arnaud at his mother’s funeral. He’s the only one of her three adult children in attendance and is not processing this loss well. He stands with no remarks prepared and sobs his way through the story of how she anonymously donated a thousand dollars, so a mentally challenged girl at his school had a place to play during recess. This story meanders down narrative side streets, sharing that this same girl bit him once, how his mother recorded herself reading all his textbooks in college to help him with his dyslexia, and how she was a non-believer. Then Jim attempts to play Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” one of her favorite tracks. His daughter’s pink and purple boombox won’t work so he’s forced to silently act out the dance he had planned to accompany the song. Throughout this entire affair, he goes from barely under control to manically sob. Jim is a man in an awful place.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Our movie opens on a simple song of the Old West warbled by the ever cheerful Buster Scruggs. Scruggs is an outlaw in a very peculiar vein, notorious and feared while exuding a Will Rogers type persona. This is one of six short stories told over the course of the movie, using the framing device of a book being acted out for the audience. Other stories focus on a bank robber experiencing a series of bad luck deals, traveling entertainers coming to the end of the line, a lone prospector’s discovery of the motherlode, a young woman in a wagon train headed westward for marriage, and a spooky stagecoach ride to Fort Morgan.